Foreword Reviews

A Day in the Woods

Clarion Rating: 3 out of 5

A Day in the Woods is a lighthearted memoir about travels through Europe whose lead focuses on living in the present.

Brian Walsh’s memoir A Day in the Woods concerns a two-year-long sojourn in Europe in the 1970s.

Inspired by James Michener’s novel The Drifters, Walsh traveled without plan or agenda. The cheapest ticket he could get landed him in Germany in 1976. There, he found work outside of an American military base, but a day in the German woods with new friends ended in passport troubles.

Fleeing Germany, Walsh hitchhiked to Austria, where he had a contact. He followed a pretty girl he met on the train to Spain; she remained in Spain, while he moved on to France. Just as his money was running out, he found work picking grapes. Monick, another picker, joined Walsh on his trip: they camped, worked, hitchhiked, and checked out the sights in Portugal, Italy, Holland, and Greece before separating in Britain.

Though Walsh is the book’s focus, his openness to new people and experiences widens its perspective. Many colorful characters contribute to his trip, including Charlie, a German acquaintance who made a lasting impression. Whenever Walsh was about to do something risky, he remembered Charlie’s mantra: “Mother wouldn’t like it.” Walsh’s boss in Greece taught him to work smarter rather than harder, and he carried that lesson into his subsequent labors, while Monick’s steadfastness and cheeriness makes the book more joyful and optimistic. Quips and accents help to individualize the book’s exchanges between all of these figures.

Walsh’s narration focuses on conveying willingness to take each day as it comes; this pushes of-the-moment concerns, especially those related to politics and world history, into the background. He conveys such events in a secondhand way, through others’ cultural explanations, including of Spain’s relative unfriendliness to outsiders, which is attributed to turmoil following Francisco Franco’s 1975 departure. The narration itself is short on opinions, except when it comes to apartheid: Walsh’s South African origins mean that he is unwelcome in some countries, and he regards such restrictions as challenges.

The book’s laissez-faire tone is matched by its easy pacing. Aside from a few dips and high points, the story records activities and feelings on a surface level, making all of its developments and challenges seem fleeting—including those of others, as when Monick’s homesickness is resolved by wanderlust. The text emphasizes pleasure above problems: Walsh is seen passing time with hash, wine, backgammon, and games, or spending romantic nights with Monick under the stars. When daily life becomes taxing or boring, Walsh, and the book, move on. The book’s sense of resolution comes through lessons learned, including a new sense that Walsh can take care of himself.

A Day in the Woods is a lighthearted memoir about travels through Europe whose lead focuses on living in the present.

Reviewed by Mari Carlson

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book and paid a small fee to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. Foreword Reviews and Clarion Reviews make no guarantee that the publisher will receive a positive review. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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